While Cleopatra is arguably one of the most commonly-known pharaohs, the majority of leaders were men. Thus, the mention of Merneith on Tuesday in the list of pharaohs piqued my interest about Merneith, other royal and civilian women in Ancient Egypt. What political and economic rights did they have? And what typical gender roles (such as everyday tasks and occupations) were assigned to women? What social and governmental positions did they hold?
Contrary to most other ancient societies, and even some societies today, women in Ancient Egypt were fairly equal to men. According to an article on Cornell’s website, women in Ancient Egypt, “enjoyed the same legal and economic rights, at least in theory, and this concept can be found in Egyptian art and contemporary manuscripts”. Actually, division of economic and legal rights was not be gender, but social status.
Women had many legal powers in Ancient Egypt, including, but not limited to, owning land, buy, borrowing, and selling slaves and servants, and the ability to sue and divorce. The Cornell articles argues that this was different than other ancient societies like Ancient Greece where a woman required a man to represent the woman in all legal matters.
However, some gender roles are comparable to other ancient societies and some cultures today. For example, pregnancy and having children was a way to measure a woman’s success. Furthermore, on a website dedicated to information about women in the ancient world, it states that it was an accepted idea for women to be in charge of the household, and that men should – although heads of the household – refrain from involving themselves in household matters.
Finally, like I mentioned earlier, Cleopatra and other royal women demonstrated that while Ancient Egyptian women typically worked in the household, it was not unheard of for a woman to hold a governmental position. Cleopatra, Merneith, and others like Nefertiti illustrate the importance royal women had in Ancient Egyptian society.